Medicine is constantly evolving, as advances in technology and research expand our knowledge and capabilities.
While there are, of course, still diseases and conditions that have no cure, claiming thousands of lives each year, medicine has come a long, long way. As technology continues to advance at a startling rate, it will no doubt bring us ever-greater achievements, helping to combat illnesses that have posed fatal danger for so long.
However, it is important to look back at the changes medical breakthroughs have brought to humanity, beating otherwise-fatal diseases and injuries, increasing quality of life for millions.
Let’s explore five groundbreaking discoveries, and the changes they brought.
Fleming’s Discovery of Penicillin
When Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, medicine changed forever.
Before penicillin was introduced to the field, pneumonia, rheumatic fever, and other infections could not be treated effectively. Fleming discovered penicillin when he was analyzing Staphylococcus samples on a selection of petri dishes.
He spotted an area of mold on one dish, which appeared to have secreted something powerful enough to halt the Staphylococcus bacteria’s growth. Fleming went on to learn that this secretion was strong enough to defeat various types of bacteria, such as meningococcus and diptheria bacillus, and tasked his assistants (Frederick Ridley and Stuart Craddock) with isolating penicillin in its pure form from this secretion.
Penicillin went on to become the most effective life-saving medicine on the planet, and an estimated 200 million lives have been saved as a result of Fleming’s discovery.
The Creation of X-rays
When x-rays were invented back in 1895, diagnosing medical ailments changed forever. Now, physicians could assess patients’ internal systems without needing to perform invasive surgery, reducing the need for time-consuming, physically-traumatic exploratory operations.
Wilhelm Roentgen discovered the way in which electromagnetic radiation could be used to generate x-rays, and the first image he created was that of his wife’s hand!
Roentgen created x-rays while he was exploring the way in which electrical rays pass through a glass tube (partially evacuated) to an induction coil, and created a screen (covered in fluorescent material) which shone through the black paper covering this tube.
Following this, Roentgen also realized these rays were powerful enough to penetrate numerous objects, and that an image of his own hand highlighted the contrast between the flesh and bones. When he swapped the screen for a photographic plate, the first x-ray image was taken. Since then, x-rays have become a key part of investigating, diagnosing, and ultimately treating a vast range of injuries and illnesses.
Bozzini Discovers Endoscopes
Endoscopes provide physicians with an internal view of patients systems without a need for surgery. Unlike x-rays, however, these are invasive, and are inserted through the airways, mouth, or anus.
There are various types of endoscopy, used to investigate specific areas: during a colonoscopy, an endoscope is inserted through the rectum to explore the large intestine and bowel, and in a bronchoscopy the scope is fitted in through the nose or mouth, to examine the lungs.
Philipp Bozzini developed the first endoscope in 1806. He introduced a light-conductor (known as a ‘Lichtleiter’), designed to examine cavities and canals in the human body, though this was disapproved of by the Vienna Medical Society. When electrical light was used in endoscopy, this was a huge forward step, though these were external at first.
Endoscopes have evolved considerably over the decades, with multiple different types available now. The disposable endoscope is a recent development, made relatively inexpensively, enabling them to be used just on one patient before being discarded. This is intended to meet an increasing demand to reduce the risk of cross-contamination and diseases contracted by patients during their time in hospitals.
The capsule endoscope is a new type of technology, used to take images of the patient’s digestive tract. These capsules are approximately the shape and size of a pill, but contains a minuscule camera. Physicians use these to explore areas of the gastrointestinal tract which other endoscopes are unable to accommodate.
Refurbished endoscope use is popular today, with hospitals looking to reduce costs by purchasing models which have been repaired. Veterinary scopes also allow veterinarians to explore animals’ internal systems, with a wide range of sizes available to suit numerous species. However used, endoscope technology is essential for physicians today, providing close-up images of medical problems.
Vaccines Hit the Medical Industry
The modern concept of vaccination was introduced by Edward Jenner, who used matter from cowpox pustules as a way to inoculate patients against smallpox. Inoculations date back to China and India thousands of years ago, but Jenner’s discovery proved game-changing for medicine, with smallpox being declared eradicated in 1979.
Various types of vaccinations keep patients protected against infections and diseases, such as flu, polio, rabies, rubella, and more.
Further breakthroughs are inevitable, and while treatments for cancer, AIDS, and more have significantly improved over the past few decades, effective cures for these would change the face of medicine forever. Hopefully, the world won’t have to wait for these much longer.
Kyle McManus is a freelance writer based in the UK. This article was prepared on behalf of Pro Scope Systems.